|One example of achieving this is illustrated through Allan's series of back exercises, a classic component of Wayne Work:
First, hang over from the waist toward your toes. Now suspend your torso about 2/3 of the way up to vertical, softening the knees and keeping the standing legs as released as possible. Life and then lower the spine 2 or 3 inches, until the outer muscles of the back get fatigued.
By addressing placement principles while this series of lifts and drops continues, the spine is caressed into better alignment. Images of breath and release are helpful to feel the deeper muscles underlying this movement, such as the iliopsoas and the diaphragm. With the help of a teacher one starts to feel movement right from the center. Allan called this quality "transparency," which was the ability to experience moving from the inside, and for others to witness you moving from the inside.
Brendan: Allan also had a series for the hips and legs he called "scalpels." Could you describe these, and why this exercise has such an unusual name?
Paul: The "scalpel" is done lying on your back on the floor, the body in a spiral-stretch position (knee leading leg across the body to the other side). A continuous, large circle, perpendicular to the floor, running parallel to the body, is described with the knee. This allows deep access to the tensor fasciae latae, the ilioribial band, gluteals, and lower abdominals. If you add an ankle circle, you can also experience the peroneas and other muscles of the lower leg. This circular pattern can be expanded upon and improvised with.
He called it the "scalpel" because the feeling and the results were of a more clear, incisive, "pulled together" body that became released at the same time. The image was that it sliced away unconnected body.
Brendan: In studying with you and Tamar Rogoff, and reviewing Allan's archives, I am still stunned at how he synthesized release, energy work, Eastern dance training, and Western dance training. How did this ballerino and exhibition dancer know how to handle the emotional, energetic experiences that would erupt in his classes?
Paul: That's a good question. Many of the details of how he combined methodologies are lost, so I can only infer how he assembled his work and was able to teach it successfully. Remember, Allan was developing this work in the 1930's.
|At this time, Wilheim Reich was having pioneering insights about the emotional memory of muscles, for example.
Yoga and other meditative disciplines were just appearing in the Western popular mainstream. These fields interfaced with the new modern dance world.
For instance, Allan Wayne Work is related to Alexander Lowen's Bioenergetics, sharing the theory that you accumulate tension in the body by focusing on where the tension is, and head toward an emotional catharsis. On the other side is fundamental release, the groundwork for lasting and beneficial change in the body. I personally don't know if he was aware of Alexander Lowen, but Allan did utilize the principle of catharsis, and was educated and curious about other areas of study (psychology, pop culture, science), and how they were reflected in his work.
In partnership with exercises, Allan used an effective personal massage technique, the history of which I know very little about except that I experienced it in my body. It was emotionally and energetically triggering. During specific isolations in the chest area, for example, sadness could flow through the body, resulting in a well of tears and gasping. One usually shuts down such expression. But at this point, Allan would support the unfettered expression of this energy through encouraging continued movement and hands-on work. There was rarely a class that passed without someone getting angry or crying. I loved it. Interestingly, the goal was not psychological insight but better movement, an important difference from therapy.
To understand this difference in focus was essential for me as a teacher, because one can get into intimate and possibly dangerous situations with students when they have body-triggered emotions. My own study of dance therapy with Blanche Evan, and being a psychotherapy client myself, helps clarify my own boundaries as a dance teacher, versus a doctor or therapist. Actually, I don't use catharsis frequently: I think it's helpful, but not as a daily practice. Once a week? Once a month? I don't know.